When I first became interested in video essays I noticed there were very few science-based video essays on YouTube, especially from academics or scientists. I wanted to figure out why. I started with two underlying questions: Do other academic fields use video essays? And can video essays can be used appropriately in science?
Over the last few years, a new genre of video has gathered momentum on YouTube; the analytic video essay. Today’s question is; what characterises a video essay?
The phrase “video essay” has two main meanings; the concept currently used by YouTubers (and the internet in general), and the original meaning used in filmmaking communities. For filmmakers, a video essay is a compilation of clips from a film which demonstrates a point about that film. In this definition, the video takes priority- many video essays make their point solely through the chosen clips.
However, other communities use the phrase differently. Reddit’s dedicated subreddit /r/videoessays describes them as:
“a written essay that is read aloud over video accompaniment which seeks to analyze some media text (tv, film, music, art, speech, etc)”.
I’ve recently finished Fun Science by Charlie McDonnell, and after reading it I’m surprisingly impressed both by the book itself and its potential value for science communication.
Firstly, some context. Charlie McDonnell is a filmmaker/musician/ vlogger/presenter… and now author. Last month he released Fun Science (the book), inspired by his 2011 YouTube series of the same name. Fun Science (the show) has also returned,and covers topics included in the book. (A playlist of all of the YouTube episodes is below).
A few weeks ago, I said about getting to explore scicomm on YouTube in a uni assignment. Now that I’ve got it finished, marked, and out of the way, here’s the story.
The assignment was a content analysis- which means an attempt to interpret media such as writing, speech or video into quantifiable data to analyse it. I decided to try using YouTube videos as my medium, rather than newspapers, and my topic was how YouTube creators represented psychology in videos. Thanks to undergrad, and previous videos I’d seen, I had some ideas of what to expect, so those ideas were the start of my research questions. Also, there’s so little research yet in this kind of area that I could end up finding anything- that unexpectedness made this topic appealing.
This post follow part 1, where I looked at the type of videos and channels appearing on YouTube searches for science communication.
While there’s a lot of science content on YouTube, and relatively strong content communicating science, there isn’t much about science communication itself. There are videos for non-scientists about science, but not about scicomm. A Crash Course or RiskBites equivalent for science communication doesn’t exist.
The obvious question is; should that content exist? To me, the answer can only be yes.
One reason is my personal experience in discovering science communication. I didn’t find out that science communication existed until a few weeks before I graduated with my BSc, while I was already researching psychology-based Masters courses. The second I came across a description of UWE’s scicomm course, I knew it was the Masters I wanted to do, before I’d even read any more about what scicomm even was.
While looking up different viewpoints for my last post on the definition of science communication, I noticed something unexpected.
I’m interested in science communication, and love to learn more about it. I also spend a lot of time on YouTube, including on educational channels. However, I’ve never used YouTube for finding out about scicomm specifically.
I didn’t know if it was just something I had overlooked, or if there was a reason for this. So I decided to investigate where YouTube stands on scicomm – whether its popular with science communicators, and whether science communication videos and channels are popular with YouTube users.
My first tactic was to go with the obvious; to search for “science communication” on YouTube and see what kind of channels and videos come up. As this is a likely approach for someone who has just heard the term “science communication” and wants to explore it, this seemed a sensible place to start.
I looked at the 5 most relevant channels and videos according to YouTube’s search algorithm, then the 5 highest viewed channels and videos.
The most successful section in my opinion was the 5 most relevant videos.
Two of the 5 were from the same channel- Did Someone Say Science?- a channel I’d never watched before but was really impressed by. Science Communication; It’s No Joke! explains why scicomm is important using famous historical science such as the discovery of penicillin as reference points. “Top 5 Science Communication Moments in Films” is interesting because of the film references and because its format promises an easy, entertaining watch.